When Foreign Policy magazine reported this spring that Israel was in talks with Azerbaijan over the use of the latter's airfields in order to carry out an attack on Iran, the bombshell report was vociferously denied by officials in Baku and derided by regional analysts. Azerbaijan would seem to not have any interest in such cooperation, and the Foreign Policy report was correctly described as "Washington-centric."
But now Reuters has come out with the same story, but their sources are Azerbaijani and Russian:
[T]wo Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.
"Where planes would fly from - from here, from there, to where? - that's what's being planned now," a security consultant with contacts at Azeri defense headquarters in Baku said. "The Israelis ... would like to gain access to bases in Azerbaijan."
Rasim Musabayov, an independent Azeri lawmaker and a member of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said that, while he had no definitive information, he understood that Azerbaijan would probably feature in any Israeli plans against Iran, at least as a contingency for refueling its attack force:
"Israel has a problem in that if it is going to bomb Iran, its nuclear sites, it lacks refueling," Musabayov told Reuters.
"I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access.
"We have (bases) fully equipped with modern navigation, anti-aircraft defenses and personnel trained by Americans and if necessary they can be used without any preparations," he added.
The same skepticism applies now as applied with the Foreign Policy piece: it's very hard to imagine what Azerbaijan would gain from participating in an Israeli strike on Iran. Azerbaijan has its own serious problems with Iran, but they're pretty separate from Israel's and have little to do with the nuclear program. And participating in an Israeli attack would just open Azerbaijan up for retaliation, for which Baku is not at all prepared.
What could be worth it to Baku? This is 100 percent speculation, but what if Israel were able to provide something totally game-changing vis-a-vis Nagorno Karabakh? Taking Karabakh back from the Armenians who control it now is Azerbaijan's top priority by far, and Baku may find it worthwhile to risk Iranian retaliation if it could get Karabakh. I have no idea what that game-changing something Israel might be able to provide, but it's the only way I can see this making any sense. No doubt we'll hear a lot more about this.